Joseph T. Gorman

Classmates, faculty and parents rallied around Loyola Blakefield freshman who suffered from a rare genetic form of leukemia

  • Joseph T. "Joe" Gorman
Joseph T. "Joe" Gorman (Baltimore Sun )
March 11, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Joseph T. Gorman, whose struggle with a rare form of leukemia inspired his Loyola Blakefield classmates to raise funds to help find a suitable bone-marrow donor, died Wednesday, the day after his 15th birthday, at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"Joe was our profile in courage, and that will be the subject of my funeral homily," said the Rev. Thomas A. Pesci, who is president of Loyola Blakefield.

"He was such an inspiration, and in his few short years here got the idea of being a 'man for others,' which is the school's motto," he said. "Joe was always thinking of others and could pull different groups together."

Joseph was born in Baltimore and spent his early years in Ellicott City until moving to Glenwood in Howard County, about five years ago.

He attended Woodmont Academy in Cooksville until entering the Towson private boys' school in the sixth grade.

"He was studious, had a big personality and you were always aware of Joe," said John J. Handscomb, a Baltimore attorney. "He loved sports, watching baseball and memorizing stats. He loved Texas football and the New York Yankees."

"He loved sports and was a great soccer player. He was left-handed and left-footed — which made him a secret weapon. When he played baseball, he was a pitcher and first baseman," said his father, Gregg D. Gorman, Legg Mason's chief financial officer. "He was very smart and taught himself to read at 4. He'd be under the covers with a flashlight sounding out the words. He even got A's while he was out getting treatments."

When Joseph was diagnosed in 2008 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare genetic form of the blood disease, his eighth-grade classmates banded together to support their friend.

They began wearing blue Loyola Blakefield hats with his name stitched across the back in support of their friend, who had lost his hair because of chemotherapy treatments.

When he felt well enough to attend school, Gail P. Kujawa, who is vice principal in Loyola's middle school, hung a hat on her office doorknob signifying that Joseph was in school that day.

"I've been doing this for 37 years, and I've never met a student like Joe. He became a teacher to us in the way he handled this, said Mrs. Kujawa. "He prided himself on picking himself up when life knocked him down. That child has deeply touched us."

When it came time to search for a bone-marrow transplant donor, Joseph's family's members were not suitable matches.

Last summer, his classmates, with the help of their parents and faculty, began raising money with car washes, raffles and other events to help in the search for a donor.

Fellow student Ian Silverman raised $1,500 in pledges for a 3-mile swim-a-thon, with the money going to the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Students enlisted the help of their parents in organizing a bone-marrow drive that was named "Join for Joe," whose goal was to enroll at least 500 donors for the National Bone Marrow Registry.

Their expectations were exceeded when about 900 people showed up during the six-hour event to offer swabbings.

Joseph's school friends were too young to be marrow donors, which is open to people ages 18 to 60.

"We can't participate in the bone-marrow drive, but we can do whatever to help Joe," Ian Silverman told The Baltimore Sun at the time. "We are sticking with him to help him in this battle."

"Ian swam a 3-mile open-water swim last September called Swim Across America in honor of Joe," said Dawn M. Silverman, Ian's mother. "Ian is already registered to swim this September in the same event. Ian's plan is: 'We didn't find Joe's cure in time. By supporting cancer research, you can save your best friend's life.'"

Dr. John Wilson, a Baltimore physician, is an uncle of Joseph's.

"For 21/2 years, Joe battled cancer. Medicine did everything it could, and the bone-marrow transplant was successful," Dr. Wilson said. "But the cancer cells came back."

"Joe didn't get angry when his mother told him the cancer had come back," said Mrs. Kujawa. "He just shrugged his shoulders. He was constantly an inspiration to all of us and brought out the best in us. At 15, he made such a difference."

His father recalled his son winning at bingo and selecting several baby items as prizes rather than something for himself.

"His mother asked, 'Joe, why did you do that?' He said he heard they were giving one of the nurses a baby shower and he wanted to contribute something. He just loved giving to others. He truly believed in being 'a man for others,'" Mr. Gorman said.

Father Pesci said that Joseph had recently been informed that he was the recipient of the Children's Hope Medal of Honor.

"This is presented by Heroes of Hope, a program under the World Health Foundation, for his part in inspiring and assisting in a bone-marrow drive that resulted in the registration of nearly 900 new bone-marrow donors," said Father Pesci.

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